Malaysian companies develop Covid-19 rapid test kits

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Homegrown technology company Biogenes Technologies Sdn Bhd is developing an aptamer-based biosensor against the novel coronavirus that can accurately deliver test results in under one minute. 

The technology is the result of a collaboration between Biogenes and San Francisco-based start-up Pinpoint Science Ltd. The aim is to design and develop a DNA-based aptamer against the novel coronavirus that will be used as part of Pinpoint’s novel nano-sensor platform. 

“This will enable handheld devices to be developed for rapid screening of coronavirus infections, including for asymptomatic infections. This handheld device is expected to be able to detect the presence of the coronavirus at the early stage of the infection,” Biogenes says in a statement.

The innovative, handheld, portable device is expected to be affordable and simple enough to be used by anyone. Upon success, it hopes to release a multi-test portable device that can be used in the comfort of one’s home. 

“The current second wave of Covid-19 infections has clearly demonstrated that our country’s lab resources have been stretched to its limits to cater for the testing load. As such, new innovative solutions in this field are critical so that we can detect the disease early, preventing infections and providing care needed for the infected patients,” says Biogenes CEO Tang Kok Mun.

Biogenes will deploy its proprietary biocomputational APTCAD platform to develop aptamers directly against the virus protein as the biomarker. According to the statement, studies have shown that this protein is an early indicator of the presence of the coronavirus in patients’ bodies during the early onset of the infection, unlike antibodies, which only show up after day seven and beyond.

“Our biocomputational platform allows us to design and optimise the aptamer within two to three weeks of receiving information on the target molecule. The aptamer design can be digitally sent to our collaborators for use. Such a high level of digitalisation in our workflow allows us to proceed with the design without being impeded by the ongoing restricted movement order,” says Tang.

Another Malaysian company, Medical Innovation Ventures Sdn Bhd (Mediven), has developed a new laboratory test kit for use in testing patient specimens of Covid-19, including influenza and influenza-like illnesses. The single-tube assay — called GenoAmp Real-Time RT PCR Flu A/Flu B/COVID-19/Mers-CoV — can detect and differentiate Influenza A (H1N1, H3N2), Influenza B, Covid-19 (E gene, RdRP gene and spike gene) and Mers-CoV simultaneously from a single drop of a patient’s specimen. 

Mediven says in a press statement that the assay has been designed based on the recommended protocols posted by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the coronavirus.

A recent study published in The Lancet (a prestigious UK-based medical journal) on Jan 24 reported that spike genes have better sensitivity to pick up Covid-19 in nasopharyngeal swabs. “The working principle of the test is based on RT-PCR technology, in which RNA molecules of the target viruses are converted into their complementary DNA (cDNA) sequences by reverse transcriptases, followed by the amplification of the newly synthesized cDNA by standard PCR procedures,” says Dr Nicole Tang, the scientist behind the test. 

“RT-PCR is currently the procedure of choice in the detection and confirmation of influenza and influenza-like illnesses.”

Due to the nature of these closely related diseases, it is often difficult to differentiate physical symptoms of one disease from another, says the statement. Symptoms may include fever, cough and shortness of breath. 

The kit is an early screening test that enables simultaneous testing in a single-tube, compared with the existing multi-tube assays available. This allows improvement of efficiency in workflow, maximising throughput and helps hospitals screen patients faster. 

“Speed is of utmost importance in saving lives and curbing the spread of emerging infectious diseases such as Covid-19,” says Mediven operations director Dr Lim Li

Sze in the statement.

“We aim to provide an accurate and efficient tool that healthcare professionals are able to add to their arsenal in the battle to control this spreading contagion,” says Mediven executive director Ariff Ismail.